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Information Act

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Executive Summary The Indian Government, to promote transparency and accountability in the administration processes, brought into force the Right to Information Act on October 12th, 2005. As per the Parliament of India, the purpose of the RTI Act is ‘to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens’[i]. The Act applies to all the states and union territories of India, except Jammu and Kashmir. The Act is applicable to all constitutional authorities – any institution or body constituted by an act of Parliament or state legislature – including the executive, judiciary and the legislature. This act empowered the citizens of India to seek information from public authorities. In particular, the RTI act was expected to have a huge impact on the quality of the life of the poor and other backward sections of the community. Over the last five years, several incidents have highlighted that the RTI act has enough ‘teeth’ in it to bring radical increase in transparency and reduction in corruption. At the same time, it has to be accepted that the act has not reached the envisioned level. However, the institutional mechanism for the implementation of act are in place and some stakeholders like media and civil right activists have been making extensive usage of the act to bring transparency and objectivity in the functioning of various public offices. However, the reach of civil society organizations and social activists is limited owing to the geographical size and population. The success stories of the RTI act range from identifying lost postal orders to highlighting scams worth crores of rupees. Though, corruption and other inefficiencies in the Government were known earlier, citizens could not take any recourse measure. However, with the advent of the RTI act, this situation has changed. Public has found a powerful tool to bring measurability and accountability at all levels of governance. During the study for this report, it was found that the major issues in the implementation of the RTI Act are – lack of awareness in the public, inconvenience in requesting information, lack of support for concerned uthorities, lack of accountability and clarity in role, lack of infrastructure and training, inefficiencies at Information Commissions and the passive nature of Government in implementing the act. Another challenge before the Government is to aggressively encourage ‘voluntary disclosure of information’ among its various authorities. Government needs to take proactive measure for the RTI act to live up to its expected potential. It needs to take steps to improve awareness among citizens, assist the applicants, set up independent and third-party audit committees to review the functioning of Information Commissions, generate efficient models for processing RTI files etc. Detailed Summary The Indian Constitution was written with an implicit right to knowledge. But then, over the years, as the Government mechanisms became more and more bureaucratic and political, many Government employees started looking at increasing their influence in the organisation – and that started off with with-holding information. Farmers and others who were kept in the dark regarding many Govt policies protested and the basis for RTI was born. The Right to Information Act was passed in mid 2005 and was effective from October 2005[ii]. It superseded all the other special laws that had until then guarded official information in India, like the Official Secrets acti. Salient features and Social Impact: The six chapters and thirty one sections[iii] of the Right to Information act (2005) empower every citizen of India to ask any question and seek any information from the Government. By information, we mean records, memos, circulars, documents, e-mails, opinions, samples, models, advices, press releases, reports, papers, orders, logbooks, contracts and electronically stored information[iv]. RTI, however, is not absolute, as in, sections 8 and 9 tell us about the categories of information that are exempt from disclosure[v]. Categories under section 8, if demanded to serve a larger public interest, can be disclosedi. A common citizen cannot be denied any information that cannot be denied to state / legislative assemblies or a parliamentary housev. Information can be demanded from any central or state government departments, including panchayats, and from any other organization (including Non-governmental organisations) that is owned, controlled, established or substantially financed in any way by any section of the government, be it central or state[vi]. We should note that the act does not apply to the state of Jammu and Kashmir[vii]. Every Government department that comes under the purview of the RTI designated a Public Information Officer (PIO) and several Assistant PIOs within 100 days of the enactment of the law[viii]. Some documents, as per Section 4, were also required to be made available to the public suo moto by the Government authoritiesvii i. e. on their own, without anyone demanding to know. The PIO can take up to 30 days (plus a few days for postal delays etc) to get back to the applicantviii. He can also take an additional 5 days if the application is sent to the wrong department and needs to be transferred to another dept and another 15 days if there are unavoidable delays (after notifying the applicant in writing). ix] If the applicant doesn’t receive any information from the PIO past the specified date or if the received reply is not satisfactory, the issue can be escalated to the first appellate authority within another 30 days[x]. If the first appellate authority cannot give a satisfactory reply either within the stipulated 30 day time limit, the issue can be taken to the notice of the second appellate authority within 90 days of receiving the first appeal ordersvii. There is no time limit for the CIC (Central Information Commission) to reply to the second appealvii. The fee for application varies from department to department and is dependent on whether the applicant seeks information from the state or the central governments – but then, it is very much affordable for the massesi. The Central Government, for example, has a fee of INR 10 for application and a further INR 2 for every page that was created and copied[xi]. In the first few years, even though the suo moto disclosures have not really lived up to expectations, several people and organisations have benefited by the act; from 70 year old Kaniram, who got his entitlement of PDS food grains that was denied to him for a whole year, to nine year old Pranav who forced Delhi Police to register a complaint regarding the bicycle that he lost[xii]. Students got the UPSC to disclose the cut-off marks and Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti in Assam used the Right to Information act to expose illegal diversion of food grains that were allotted to the poor from the PDS centres[xiii]. These are just samples taken from a bigger list of victories for the RTI act and the common manix. The RTI act does have its issues about which we will discuss in a while. Several non-governmental organisations like Parivartan[xiv] (led by Arvind Khejriwal) and Kabir[xv] exist primarily to help people with the Right to Information act and create as much awareness as possible, given that not everyone knows just how potent the act is. We believe that continuous usage of this act and timely follow up from the Officers would lead to a culture of openness in the society. The application filed by Pranav, even if it sounds like an elementary issue, speaks a lot about what the young generation is growing up to. Origination of the Idea Though Indian is a liberal democracy, people are mostly denied access to basic information in the public domain. The Constitution of India does not grant a right to information explicitly. However, the Supreme Court of India has held in several cases that the right to information is implicit in the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 (1)(a) and right to life and liberty (Article 21). xvi] The Right to Information campaign in India began with the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a small but a powerful union of agricultural labour in a remote village Dengungri, Rajasthan. The village accounts had entries of nonexistent people and shadow developmental expenses[xvii] and the illiterate villagers were denied their wages[xviii]. The anger and determination of the villagers to hold the government accountable and bring in transparency in village accounts initiated the Right to Information movement. MKSS demanded that copies of all documents related to public work are made available to people, for a public audit[xix]. The significance of the struggle by MKSS was its fundamental premise that ordinary people must not be condemned to remain dependent on chance or someone else to free them from the oppressions of corruption. Instead, they must be empowered to control and fight the corruption on their own. The success of the MKSS movement led to the genesis of a broader disclosure on RTI in India. In 1993, the Consumer Education and Research Council, Ahmedabad (CERC) proposed a draft RTI law[xx]. During 1996-97, the Press Council of India submitted two draft model laws on the RTI but these were not considered seriously by the Government. In 1996, MKSS's advocacy gave rise to the National Campaign on People's Right to Information (NCPRI), an organization which aimed to support for the right to information and to lobby the government for enactment and effective access to information legislation[xxi]. The members of the NCPRI included ex government workers, well connected leaders many of whom had been a part of the local campaigns or jan sangathans. xxii] In 1997, the Shourie committee, under the chairmanship of Mr H. D. Shourie came up with draft legislation on the freedom of information which was criticised for not adopting a high enough standard. The draft was reworked into the Freedom of Information Bill 2000 which also was eventually rejected. The National advisory commission (NAC) was set up to oversee the implementation on the Common minimum program and since then it has been working closely on the RTI. In May 2005, the RTI amendment bill was tabled and passed in Lok Sabha. Soon after the Rajya Sabha passed the bill, the then President APJ Abdul Kalam gave his assent to the Act. On 12th October, 2005, The Right to Information Act formally came into force. Key Issues in implementation of RTI Act 1. Low public awareness: The first and foremost issue in the implementation of the act is the lack of public awareness. Former Chief Information Commissioner Mr. Wajahat Habibullah recently expressed concerns that public awareness about Right to Information (RTI) Act is not as high as it should have been[xxiii]. A survey conducted by Price Water Coopers has revealed that only 15% of the respondents were aware of the act[xxiv]. This lack of awareness is acute among women, rural population and people from backward castes (Refer the charts in exhibits). This defeats the basic purpose of act i. e providing information to the common man. Another important problem in this regard is the quality of awareness. Most of the people who claim to be aware of the RTI act are poor in terms of quality of awareness i. e how much information can be asked, what type of information can be asked for and from whom the information can be asked for. This problem was tried to overcome by encouraging ‘proactive disclosure of the information’ by institutions. However, this being optional as against mandatory in some other countries, has not resulted in any effective dissemination of information. 2. Constraints while filling the application: Lack of proper user guidelines is resulting in significant efforts on the part of the information seeker to gather knowledge about the process for RTI request submission. This lack of procedural guidelines is putting off many citizens from requesting information. Very few states have provided standard application forms for filing an RTI request[xxv]. Also, though the law allows a citizen to make a request through electronic means, in reality, the efforts made to receive requests through such media are grossly inadequate. Another related problem is the lack of assistance and non-friendly attitude of PIOs (public information officers) towards the applicants. The users do not know whom to turn to for assistance while filing an application. 3. Issues faced during information dissemination: These are the issues faced on the ‘supply’ side of the act. The biggest problem is providing information within the stipulated 30 days time. Currently, there are inadequate processes and measures in place to monitor the adherence of PIOs to the deadlines in providing the requested information. The PIOs are challenged to provide the information within the stipulated time due to inadequate record management procedures. This challenge is further severed by non-availability of proper infrastructure. The obsolete record management procedures and limited use of IT is preventing the PIOs from timely dissemination of information. Another important issue is the inadequate training of PIOs in terms of both behaviour and in-depth understanding of RTI act. In addition, there is a lack of motivation for PIOs as there are no incentives to take up a PIO job while the penalties for non-compliance exist. There is a clause in the RTI act allowing for dissemination information on suo moto basis. The PIOs should make use of this clause and proactively give out information and eliminate the hassle of large number of RTI applications. However, most of the PIOs are not aware of this provision. Even in cases when suo moto information is being provided, the quality of information is quite low and is not regularly updated there by serving no purpose. 4. Passive role of the Government: There are no adequate mechanisms within the government authorities to implement the provisions of the act. Neither the Government not the Information commissions have ensured this basic minimum requirement for implementation of RTI act. During a survey by Price Water Coopers, it was found that most of the states do no maintain a centralized data base of RTI applicants[xxvi]. This leads to delay in providing data and puts the authorities in a situation where they cannot publish the accurate numbers of applications filed and applications processed. In addition, the pendency of RTI requests at the Information Commissions is huge. This leads to delay in processing of a RTI request. One of the important roles of Information Commission is to monitor the public authority and take steps to ensure they comply with the act. However, this has been one of the weakest links of the RTI act so far. This is resulting in a large number of appeals there by wasting resources. There is an ambiguity about the roles and responsibilities of the State Governments and the Information commissions which is leading to wastage of time and resources and delay in addressing information requests. Government should take steps like creation of a knowledge resource centre, capacity building for training of PIOs, improving the motivation for PIOs and earmarking budget for implementing the recommendations. Effectiveness of the RTI Act The objective of the RTI Act (as enshrined in its preamble) is to establish a practical regime for citizens to access information held by Public Authorities. This in turn will lead to increased transparency and accountability at the Public Authorities. I. Establish a practical regime for citizens to access information: Civil society organizations, media and activists have contributed a lot in spreading the awareness of the Act amongst masses and also they have played a key role in training of PIOs & AAs, making them aware of their roles and responsibilities. xxvii] However, in spite of tremendous government and social bodies’ effort in spreading awareness of RTI and educating government officials about RTI, it was found in a survey that only 10% of PIOs scored 'above average' on parameters associated with awareness about the Act[xxviii]. In a survey of applicants who received response to their information request, two thirds got some information and only half got full information[xxix]. About three fourths of the respondents told that PIOs were not cooperative in the process. One interesting fact came out that one third of 426 PIOs contacted didn’t know that they are PIOs! [xxx] II. Increased transparency and accountability at the Public Authorities RTI has become a powerful tool in the hands of citizen to fight against corruption and have their rights. Study suggests that more and more information is sought from government bodies about their functioning, testing their fairness & efficiency and highlighting any irregularities[xxxi]. Since, the Act came into effect it revolutionized the whole system and people are delighted to be equipped with the real power of freedom of information. Though there is substantial implementation of the Act, it still needs more ammunition so that the citizens can use it to the fullest. There is a need for enhanced accountability and clarity of roles in government bodies. There is a need for mass awareness, conducive environment & emphasis on capacity building at central, state as well as district level. Government should improve efficiency of Information Commission and institutionalize third party audit, so as to maintain transparency and evaluate the success of RTI act in periodic manner[xxxii]. Interestingly there are sections of the RTI Act which act as main hurdles. These sections impede obtaining information related to process of investigation, personal information and information diverting the resources of public authority. Lessons Learnt • There should not be any variance in role/ownership among different departments of government after the fact that their roles are clearly defined in the Act. • There should be adequate planning at Public Authority level for identifying and addressing the constraints to ensure the citizens make full use of the new social innovation. There should not be any inadequate processes, infrastructure or resources for the organization to measure the extent of implementation of any social innovation. • Necessary government support should be provided to the authorities with detailed roles and responsibilities that are in alignment with the provisions of the Act. • Governments should organize educational programs in order to bring awareness of the new social innovation among its citizens as only “media” played a key role in bringing awareness in case of Right To Information Act to[xxxiii] o Only 12% of the women and 26% of the men Only 27% of the General category and 14% of the OBC/SC/ST categories o Only 13% of the rural population and 33% in urban population • Increase the number of channels through which a citizen can have access to the new social innovation. In the case of RTI, during payment of fee to receive information the citizen has to be presented physically even though the Act has no such restriction. • Adequate training should be given to all the employees who work towards the service of any new social innovation as the report from PWC on RTI shows that only 45% of Public PIOs have mentioned that they have not been trained on RTI[xxxiv]. Proper motivation should be cultivated among all the employees serving for the new social innovations • Information Technology should be effectively used in capturing the performance analysis of any new social Innovation. • Strictly adhere to the service levels that are stipulated in the Act i. e. , in the case of RTI the applicant should be provided the required information within 30 days of the petition. Appendix [pic] [pic][pic] [pic] References ----------------------- [i] http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Right_to_Information_Act - Article in Wikipedia on RTI Act [ii] http://www. ummies. com/how-to/content/putting-indias-right-to-information-act-to-good-us. html [iii] http://righttoinformation. gov. in/ [iv] http://www. rtiindia. org/guide/fundamental-facts-about-rti-2/what-is-right-to-information-6/ [v] www. rtiindia. org [vi] http://www. kabir. org. in/content/salientfeaturesofindia1. htm [vii] http://righttoinformation. gov. in/rti-act. pdf [viii] Salient features of RTI by Associate Prof R. K. Chowbisa of HCM Rajasthan State Institute of Public Administration, Jaipur at www. upacademy. org/presentationpdf/rti/RTI_SALIENT_FEATURES. ppt [ix] http://www. tiindia. org/guide/fundamental-facts-about-rti-2/time-limits-specified-in-the-rti-act-18/ [x] http://www. rtiindia. org/guide/fundamental-facts-about-rti-2/time-limits-specified-in-the-rti-act-18/ [xi] http://www. kabir. org. in/content/salientfeaturesofindia1. htm [xii] http://www. rti. org. in/Documents/Complete%20Article%20as%20one%20PDF. pdf [xiii] Samudra Gupta Kashyap in the Indian Express at http://www. indianexpress. com/story/254593. html [xiv] http://www. indiatogether. org/campaigns/parivartan/ [xv] http://www. kabir. org. in/indexx. htm [xvi] http://www. hesouthasian. org/archives/2006/post. html - Article on the History of Right to Information [xvii] http://www. nyayabhoomi. org/treatise/history/history1. htm - Article on the rising RTI in India [xviii] http://www. worldpress. org/asia/1014. cfm - Interview with Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey. Transparency and Poverty in India. [xix]http://www. humanrightsinitiative. org/programs/ai/rti/india/articles/The%20Movement%20for%20RTI%20in%20India. pdf - Article: The Movement for Right to Information in India. People’s power for the Control of Corruption – Harsh Mander and Abha Joshi. xx] http://www. thesouthasian. org/archives/2006/post. html - Article on the history of RTI [xxi] http://www. thesouthasian. org/archives/2006/post. html - Article on the history of RTI [xxii] http://www. drc-citizenship. org/publications/InFocus/Rs_India_final1. pdf - Winning the Right to Information campaign in India : Amita Baviskar [xxiii] http://www. rtiindia. org/forum/51999-more-awareness-needed-right-information-act. html - Forum regarding issues in RTI implementation [xxiv] http://rti. gov. in/rticorner/studybypwc/key_issues. df - Study of PWC on RTI act in India [xxv] http://rti. gov. in/rticorner/studybypwc/key_issues. pdf - Study of PWC on RTI act in India [xxvi] http://rti. gov. in/rticorner/studybypwc/key_issues. pdf - Article of PWC on issues in implementation of RTI act in India [xxvii] http://rti. gov. in/rticorner/studybypwc/key_issues. pdf, Study of RTI by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2009 [xxviii] http://cic. gov. in/CIC-Articles/TimesOfIndia-28092008. htm, The Times Of India Article, 28 Sep 2008, 0656 hrs IST,TNN [xxix] http://www. rtiindia. org/directory/uploads-2/interim-findings-of-the-peoples-r
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